On this day: India wins hockey gold at Moscow Olympics

It was an Olympic final in the true sense for the tension it developed as the match reached the closing stages. India was sitting pretty at one stage but two quick goals by Spain almost rocked India's hopes of regaining glory after 16 years.

Indian players celebrate after beating Spain 4-3 in the hockey final.   -  The Hindu Archives

The Golden Tussle

BACK IN INDIA our hockey victory in the Olympics may not get its due share of praise. The hackneyed argument will be that this tournament did not have at least six top nations, including Pakistan.

How far India would have fared equally well in a stronger competition is a speculative question. But from the manner of its play in the final against Spain there is no doubt it would have gone close in any class of international competition.

Having seen on the TV how pathetically our players would stop in their tracks in the Karachi Champions Cup tournament during the last quarter of the matches played on the astro turf. it came as a refreshing air that our boys were going on the kill even with a few minutes left in all their matches here.

Again whether astro turf or poly grass (the surface here) gives more leg weariness is a disputed fact. That our boys never showed signs of such weariness clearly proved that they have adopted themselves to the new surface.

 

Back home the authorities should now think of laying astro-turf. The natural grass strip makes trapping unsure and blocking most uncertain. But on artificial grass the player can be definitely surer. It is not because international competitions will be played on such surfaces that new playing pitch is advocated, but because of its own inherent advantages.

A player with stamina and sufficient leg power will be able to cope with the surface with absolute comfort. The Government which has been taking a lot of interest in the promotion of sport must help in laying astro-turf or poly grass pitches in important centres. The cost must not discourage it from undertaking this job.

 

The boys have sweated hard to regain the Olympic gold, the value of which must not be assessed only from the point of the competition our boys faced. We might have won a 'suspect' gold. But imagine what outcry there would have been in the country if even in this devalued tournament India had failed. Well, that might have caused the complete eclipse of hockey in India. To the extent that this eventuality was prevented. thanks to our victory, the achievement should be hailed.

Take the final against Spain. After our forwards were bottled up for a couple of minutes by the man-to-man marking of the Spanish defence, the Indian attack went into action. From the 10th minute onwards we were right on top. There is no other word. For the amount of attacks launched we should have been good by at least three clear goals. How Iqbal's flick was blocked by the Spanish goalkeeper is a mystery not that there was any suspicion about it;the goalkeeper was nowhere near the ball. A Kaushik pass, which was beckoning some Indian forward to put his stick across for a sure goal (Spanish citadel stood completely breached) was not availed of.

Indian athletes cheer for the hockey team during the final field hockey match between India and Spain at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

These are being recalled to emphasise the authority of Indian players at that stage. The match looked completely one-sided, and an Indian victory by a comfortable margin was imminent. The penalty stroke which at last put us ahead was not a field goal, but it did reflect the superiority of our attack.

When Surinder faced the tall Spanish goalkeeper with a face mesh for the penalty stroke, there was some anxiety because the continental goalkeepers do save penalty strokes with ease. This time, Surinder's push gave him no chance whatsoever.

Skipper Bhaskaran had a lot to do with the conversion of the long corner hit. The way he blocked and completely outwitted two Spanish defenders and gave a neat pass to surinder to finish the task was something to behold: A quick dribble and a flick. Kaushik who was always beating the rivals with his speed also found the target with an angular drive.

The match had gone completely in favour of India and though there were 20 minutes left there was hardly any one prepared for any quick result. Yet there was such a tantalising spell. When Juan Amat ran to take the penalty corner hit there were ominous portents. His drive went in and another one also taken two minutes later.

From a position with Everest within hailing distance we were rolling down. Spain had only one goal to draw level. But for a goal by Shahid — a few critics wouldn't concede it as a right goal — at this stage the sagging Indian morale would have gone down to abysimal depths. This goal revived India's hopes.

But the Indian attack, however lost its edge hereabouts. With only five minutes, every one was trying to block with the result panicky saves were made in abundance. With the rival in retreat, the Spaniards took full advantage of it. They mounted pressure. One lost count of the number of corners they forced and if they did not convert more than one it was purely luck.

Coach Balkishan Singh said perhaps he had prayed more than the Spanish coach in those vital moments Anyhow India obtained the gold.

It was a victory for the traditional style of Indian hockey that made old-timers like Balbir, who were present, very happy.

The performance of Russia, which placed third deserves special notice. The Russians have been learning the right way. The fluency with which their forwards changed their positions would often find the opposing defence on the wrong foot. It did when India played.

Coach Mikhail Osintsev has been studying through the video tapes hockey played abroad and with the well-known Russian efficiency and thoroughness, the country should be a force to reckon with in European hockey soon.

Poland was a disappointment. It lost rather easily to Russia for the third place. There was a big gap "between the first four and the rest.

Of Russia's outstanding men are to be picked, palm should go to Lampeev, the hard hitting full back and Sergei Klevtsov in the forward line.

For Spain while 'Juan Amat is still good the nippy Ricardo Cabot at right flank has a great future. Amat has announced his retirement from first class game. India's ambassador in Moscow, who was present at the final congratulated the players and later went to the Olympic village and met the players again. In a message he said. "I am sure this victory will give a new momentum to sports movement in India.